Evangeline comes home

The 2/3 life size marble version of Louisa Lander’s Evangeline (c.1856-58) is now on display at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. Long missing from the Salem sculptor’s publicly displayed oeuvre, this version was donated in 2020 by the art dealer Michael Altman and his wife Alexandria, in honor of “Grandma Louby Weeks.”

Evangeline represents the heroine of Longfellow’s 1847 poem about an Acadian girl exiled from Nova Scotia during the British Expulsion of the Acadians. It was considered one of Lander’s most successful pieces, and like almost all of her work, represents a female heroine in a neoclassical visual style. The New York Times review titled “The Dusseldorf Gallery“ published on March 13, 1860, notes:

…the first thing which catches the eye of the visitor is a statuette of “Evangeline,” the heroine of LONGFELLOW’S poem of that name. It is the work of the American sculptress, Miss LOUISA LANDER, of Salem, Mass., and reflects great credit on the lady, who is, as yet, but a young artist…

   The sculptress has imparted a great deal of the beautiful serenity, the happy peace which this line suggests, to her little figure, which reposed full length on a flowery bank…the workmanship of the piece is very elaborate and beautiful. It has a few faults, one of which is a superabundance of long, thick, ropy bunches of hair, hanging on each side of the almost infantile face and extremely delicate form of the sleeping girl…

In 1860, Lander returned to America for good from Rome, and immediately began to show and sell work produced in her Roman studio. Lander had exhibits in the most prominent Boston venues, among them the Boston Athenaeum and the Williams & Everett Gallery. Evangeline was shown at the prestigious Dusseldorf Gallery in New York City together with several other pieces, including: a small statuette of Virginia Dare; the water nymph Undine; and a six-foot group of three figures, Pioneer Mother Defending Her Daughters.

Interestingly, Evangeline also exists in another, 1/2 life size version. Lander listed several completed works on the back page of her “Virginia Dare” pamphlet which promoted the sculpture of the same name: To-Day (bust), Galatea (head), Maude Muller (bust, under life size), Evangeline (both 2/3 life size and 1/2 life size).

Evangeline is also specifically mentioned in Lander’s 1923 will (though which size is not indicated):  “Margaret Lander Pierce, child of Vinton (Lander’s great-great niece), received the statue of “Evangeline” now in a box in the front room, and some furniture, and $5,000.”

For the full story of Lander’s work and extraordinary career, see my article: https://cvw198.wordpress.com/my-new-articles/

Evangeline in on view at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. Photographs by Carolyn Wirth.

See my next show at Installation Space!

So proud to be showing once again with FeministFuturist and my fellow futurist artists: Christina Balch, Freedom Baird, Marjorie Kaye, Karen Meninno and our awesome special guest, filmmaker Homa Sarabi. Join us at our opening July 7! Kudos to Installation Space director Anna Farrington who maintains a roster of fascinating artists.

We Are Not Women, We Are Gods coming up in June

I’m excited to announce I’ll be in the next exhibit by the National Association for Women in the Arts, Massachusetts Chapter at the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center. Pictured is one of my pieces in the show–“Equinox.” The exhibit runs Monday, Jun 12 through Friday, August 11th. I’ll be posting more about the opening soon.

Rist, Hesse, Hatoum

A recent visit to Boston’s ICA to see Pipilotti Rist’s Streichelner Nachtmahl Kreis (Caressing Dinner Circle) was as positive as I’ve come to expect from Rist’s quirky, colorful, imaginative installations. A round dinner table set with white china and surrounded by mismatched chairs was the stage for a circular video installation animated by an overhead projection which Rist calls a “wonder lamp.” After being told we could sit down, my friends and I were joined by a few other museum-goers—somewhat shyly, all of us, since we are mostly told not to touch (or even approach) most work in most museums. We were all illuminated by the kaleidoscopic series of images which included Vermeer’s The Milkmaid, drawings of desert vegetation, and abstract forms of shards and droplets, in a shared meal of the imagination. My other favorites included Mona Hatoum’s powerful Caught-up (2022) and the miraculous Eva Hesse, whose iconic Accession IV (1968, below left) was selected by Taylor Davis for her Invisible Ground of Sympathy exhibit, which also includes work by Nancy Spero and Louise Bourgeois.

Meissen Inside Out at the Fogg

Arlene Shechet explores Meissen porcelain and manufacturing in “Inside Out

This small exhibit is, above all, an opportunity to show off the Fogg’s delectable collection of Meissen plates and dinnerware, figurines and other small pieces. I’m not sure what Sechet’s work adds to the Meissen on display, or even whether it illuminates the manufacturing process, despite incorporating objects like molds used in manufacturing. Her pieces that reference Black culture (“Gangsta Girl on the Block“) fall flat, their hoped-for edginess misses the mark. Likewise, the stated intent to “recontextualize…the larger history of labor, class and global trade” is not reflected in the work itself, despite every effort to display Shechet’s work in handsome vitrines. Her new work, cheek by jowl with masterpieces of Meissen porcelain, only proves that the Meissen wins every time. On view through July 6, 2025.

Pictured: “Tumbling Vases” Arlene Shechet, 2012. Photo by Carolyn Wirth.

Pittsburgh’s Carnegie International

This year’s consciousness-expanding Carnegie International (The Carnegie Art Museums, Pittsburgh, PA) is wide ranging geographically and also temporally. The oldest international art exhibit in the country (begun in 1896) presents us with two overlapping conceptual currents: historical works from the collections of international institutions, estates, and artists, alongside new commissions and recent works by contemporary artists. I am interested in the dynamics of, and impressed by, the work of the large, diverse, international curatorial team.

This year’s international Is it morning for you yet?, is named after a Mayan Kaqchikel expression, where instead of saying ‘Good morning’ it is customary to ask, ‘Is it morning for you yet?’ The Carnegie International described the aim to acknowledge ‘that human beings’ internal clocks and experiences are different: when it’s morning for some, it might still be night for others’.

Many pieces intrigued me, most immediately Tishan Hsu‘s huge, blobby things on wheels, covered with a skin of digitally printed plastic. Festooned with polka dots, images of bits of body parts, and a QR code that seamlessly reads accompanying digital images, the two large works in the museum courtyard are hilarious, pathetic, mysterious, and disturbing all at once. Hsu’s intent is to probe “the cognitive as well as physical effects of transformative technological advances on our lives” while embodying new, poetic ways to represent the human body. Inside, the smaller yet equally power bas-reliefs by Abdul Hay Mosaliam Zarara include the piece pictured, made for International Womens’ Day 1985. Constructed of sawdust and glue painted with acrylics, Zarara uses humble materials to communicate that art can be created by anyone, using whatever is at hand, to transmit important images and messages.

Through April 2, 2023.

Mourning in gold and blue

nothing can separate you from the language you cry by Vanessa German

Those of us familiar with the names Carnegie, Frick, and Phipps from New York may be surprised at the scope of the Pittsburgh museums funded by these familiar robber barons.

At the Frick Pittsburgh (a complex of museums on the grounds of Henry Clay Frick’s family mansion) is a powerful evocation of sorrow by Vanessa German. German, artist-in-residence this year, works from a studio nearby and has devised a memorial triptych, nothing can separate you from the language you cry.

The multi-sensory installation features three shining altars made of gold found objects and sweeping assemblages of cobalt blue glass crafted at the nearby Pittsburgh Glass Center. The glass waterfalls are designed as memorials to: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain and the hundreds of others who lost their lives to police and domestic terrorist violence. The multisensory environment includes symphonic music selections from Unburied, Unmourned, Unmarked: Requiem for Rice composed by Emmy award-winning composer Jonathan Wineglass.

A self-described “citizen-artist” German views museums as agents for cultural change. She says, “This installation begins in the place of the personal. The citizen artist asking, ‘how can I be whole here? How can WE be whole here? How do WE heal? What role can museums play as spaces of intentional social healing?’ These are the questions that inspire this immersive installation.”

“This work is personal,” German continues. “How do I grieve, mourn the losses of so many Black people killed by the police? How do I stay whole and safe and creative in an environment where black women are shot and killed by the police in their own homes, while playing video games, cooking, or even sleeping?” 

Read more and listen at the Frick Pittsburgh website. The installation is up until June 30, 2023.

Soma Grossa in Pittsburgh

Explorations of the body–our bodies, large bodies–decorated with jewelry, stuffed into boxes, bound by too-small cords and straps –occupy an idiosyncratic and wonderfully funky gallery space at The Brew House in Pittsburgh.

The exhibit, Soma Grossa (“fat bodies”), is curated by writer and editor Anna Mirzayan. She has carefully gathered pieces conceived outside the filter of the Thin Gaze. These works are created by fat artists; each artist translates their lived experience in a variety of ways–posed photographs, a dinner table collapsed under its mammoth weight of food, self-portraits in tortured poses. Much of the work, either explicitly or implicitly, addresses society’s moralizing attitudes toward fatness, and in various ways announces here we are…bulges and all.

Above, Fitting XX, by Amanda Kleinhaus, 2022, rubber foam, wood, screws, video projection.

There’s a lot that Pittsburgh does right in terms of galleries, museums, and public art–it is a tremendous art vacation destination. The Brew House complex consists of artists’ live/work loft spaces in addition to the first-floor gallery. There’s even a dandelion-festooned bike repair station. Soma Grossa has also been reviewed in Hyperallergic. It closes January 14, 2023.

Above: Katie Rauth, Well laden with things of complacence; Elisha Cox Bulge, the Brew House bike repair station.

Liz Helfer: Blinkah II

Liz Helfer has had a busy summer. Besides exhibiting in Berlin (Germany) and Boston, Helfer has installed a new iteration of “Blinka (II)” at the Frog Pond Farm sculpture walk in Harvard, Mass.

The title is a Boston-accented word for signalling intentions on the road, bringing the crazed world of local highway driving into the peaceful woods of the sculpture park. This grouping of animals was, in Helfer’s words, “created in response to the casual destruction of life around us. The broken windshield glass is both reflective and transparent; the animal silhouettes become ghostlike in this material.”

The installation is comprised of a group of common animals–squirrel, fox, deer, duck–hovering in a small patch of native woods like resurrected roadkill. The surprising materials are masterfully constructed: plates of shattered glass, suspended from metal armatures, evoke both gravestones and crime-scene chalk outlines. Placed at intervals along a small inlet, this memorial reminds us of what is lost every day on the highways of America.

New England Triennial, formerly Biennial

The New England Triennial, formerly the New England Biennial, is now on view at both the deCordova and Fruitlands Museums. Located about a half hour’s drive from each other, in Lincoln and Harvard, Mass., respectively, the Triennial has been reorganized by the Trustees of Reservations which acquired both properties, and whose curatorial staff organized the new format. Despite adding Fruitlands’ dramatic landscape to the scope of the experience, and occasional spills of complex beauty like Edwige Charlot’s installation (below, at Fruitlands), the show this year feels somehow sparse and curatorially disorganized.

Edwige Charlot, “Syel la sou te a, paradi sou dlo” (Heaven on earth, paradise on water), 2022.
Enamel on aluminum, ink on voile and organza.

Two standouts are Harry Gould Harvey IV and Allison Maria Rodriguez. Rodriguez’s haunting video installation “All That Moves,” occupies its own small gallery at the deCordova. Exploring the artist’s residency near Churchill, Manitoba, at a former rocket testing site littered with space-age-era debris, Rodriguez’s work conveys undertones of the Canadian government’s indigenous genocide. A video of a foundation crumbling in the underbrush is both mysterious and banal; Rodriguez explains it is a ruined tract house built for forcibly relocated indigenous people, who did not survive in an unfamiliar landscape far from home. Rodriguez describes the pervasive feeling of despair she identified in the area, but her work also sparks hope in the continuation of life: a kaleidoscopic animation of rainbow-colored daphnia fills one wall, tiny and vivid survivors, viewed as if under a microscope.

Allison Rodriguez, animation still from video installation “All that Moves”

Harry Gould Harvey IV’s room at Fruitlands holds a series of meticulously sculpted miniatures, in red wax and found materials, engaged in purposeful and obscure machinations on and around Henry David Thoreau’s desk and bookcases, historic objects from the Fruitlands collections. A wax mouse lurks under Thoreau’s desk. Dollhouse-sized wax kewpies and tiny, chandelier-like aggregations of wax adorn a bookcase. Encaustic mottoes framed in scrap wood from Gilded-age mansions decorate the walls. The whole is like looking through the wrong end of a telescope at the busy industrial heritage and current economic decline of New England—not surprising as the artist was born and still lives in Fall River, former hub of the Massachusetts textile industry.

The majority of the Triennial does not hold up as well. The work is often unchallenging though over-described and—oddly—not entirely reflective of the region it purports to celebrate. My curmudgeonly self wonders why some included artists are summer residents here, whose “real” lives and careers are surely elsewhere. Does it represent a kind of curatorial timidity, as though there aren’t enough serious artists in New England to warrant a larger, more focused survey? I have news: there are.